WASHINGTON ― House Republicans’ new committee investigating the “Weaponization of Government” against conservatives on Thursday featured testimony questioning the treatment of Donald Trump supporters who ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
In a lengthy statement laying out a vast left-wing conspiracy, committee witness Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) testified that while he condemned the violence that occurred at the Capitol, the Justice Department has been too hard on the rioters.
“The fervor in which the Biden Department of Justice pursues those protesters and rioters stands in stark contrast to the lack of interest in the summer of 2020 rioters,” Johnson said.
Federal prosecutors have filed charges against more than 950 people for their role in the Capitol riot, and as of September 2020 had charged more than 300 people for crimes connected to nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Another 17,000 people were arrested by state and local police, according to one estimate.
But it’s not just that he thinks Trump supporters have gotten worse treatment from the Justice Department than Black Lives Matter protesters ― it’s that he thinks the Justice Department has been too rough, period.
“Serious questions regarding instances of unequal application of justice and violation of Jan. 6 defendants’ due process rights remain unanswered,” Johnson said. “SWAT team arrests and treatment of prisoners are legitimate concerns.”
Johnson also questioned “how many federal agents or informants were in the crowd” on Jan. 6, echoing a conspiracy theory that undercover FBI agents tricked Trump’s supporters into attacking the Capitol.
Jan. 6 was not one of the main focuses of the hearing, during which Republicans lamented the liberal bias of Big Tech and the attempted cancellation of former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. But FBI malfeasance made up the bulk of the proceedings. Committee chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) opened by listing all the FBI agents who’d approached House Republicans with allegations of political corruption in the bureau.
“In my time in congress, I have never seen anything like this,” Jordan said. “Dozens and dozens of whistleblowers, FBI agents, coming to us talking about what is going on, the political nature of the Justice Department.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), another member of Congress who served as a committee witness on Thursday, said the entire “weaponization” enterprise was an effort by Republicans to restore Trump to the White House.
“It’s all about restoring Donald Trump, the twice impeached former president, to the office he lost by 7 million votes in 2020 and tried to steal back in a political coup and violent insurrection against our constitutional order on Jan. 6, 2021,” Raskin said.
A key part of the political nature of the Justice Department, as Republicans see it, is reflected by the supposed mistreatment of Jan. 6 rioters. One of Jordan’s FBI whistleblowers is a special agent in Florida who was suspended after he refused to participate in any cases connected with the attack on the Capitol partly because he doesn’t think the rioters are guilty.
Jordan said the agent disclosed “that the Washington field office is deliberately manipulating Jan. 6 case files to make it appear that domestic violence extremism is on the rise,” and that the agent had been suspended.
But according to the FBI whistleblower’s statement to Congress — which Johnson published on his Senate website last year — the suspension occurred after he repeatedly refused to participate in arrests connected to Jan. 6 because he didn’t think the suspects were guilty.
Johnson has championed the whistleblower as “patriotic” for defying the FBI’s Washington field office, which Republicans view as a scourge corrupting honest FBI agents across the country. Johnson has also been a prominent skeptic of the idea that Trump supporters stormed the Capitol because the former president riled them up with lies about the election having been stolen.
HuffPost asked Johnson if he believed FBI informants instigated the riot. He responded that the investigations by House and Senate lawmakers have been “woefully inadequate” and questioned why the Capitol had been so “negligent.” He pointed to a delusional report published in the Federalist that claimed “provocateurs” started the riot, and that the Capitol Police were missing in action.
“There was no police presence at all on the west side of the Capitol,” Johnson said. “I mean, they knew thousands of people were going to be marching from the White House down to the Capitol. How could you be so incredibly negligent?”
It’s hard to square Johnson’s statement with reality. The west side of the Capitol was the scene of some of the most violent attacks on police that day, including the assaults on Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick and D.C. police officer Michael Fanone.
Johnson wasn’t the only one reminding hearing attendees of Jan. 6. In the room on Thursday was Micki Witthoeft, the mother of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot that day by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to break into a room adjoining the House chamber. Witthoeft has attended several hearings so far this year, and received a shoutout from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) during an Oversight Committee meeting last month.
Witthoeft told HuffPost she’s been coming to the hearings on her own, not because any members of Congress had invited her.
“I’m an interested American citizen,” Witthoeft said. “Not just what happened to my daughter, what’s happening with this country.”